If the thought of talking about your small business in front of a group of people (small or large) makes you break out in a cold sweat, it's time for you to conquer your fear. You owe it to yourself and your business to at least try.
"For a small-business owner, one-on-one meetings, small meetings and short pitches are the key interactions," says Lindsey Boyer Pauline, a public speaking coach and speech-language pathologist. "But the rules of public speaking still apply."
Pauline coaches clients on these five rules for battling public speaking nerves:
1. Know What You're Talking About
Pauline says if you don't know your stuff, don't bother to open your mouth. "Do your research and don't get in trouble by saying the wrong thing," Pauline advises. "Sometimes you only get one chance."
And you want that chance to prove that you are polished and professional.
2. Understand The Audience
"Ease your nerves by remembering your audience wants you to succeed," Pauline says. "We all want to talk to someone pleasant and knowledgeable, not someone fumbling to get words out. Your audience wants you to be a good speaker."
Pauline says this rule is in play most of the time with one very large exception: When you're speaking to a competitor, that person may not be quite so invested in wanting you to succeed.
3. Deflect The Attention
Pauline says you will be more comfortable in public speaking situations if you make meetings and conversations less about you and more about the other person.
"It is human nature to want to do business with someone we like," Pauline says. "Usually we like people who like to talk about us. So talk less about how wonderful you and your product are and more about about how wonderful your product can make your audience."
Another tip: Watch for how many times you say "I" in your presentation. Using it too often can be a big turnoff.
4. Write It Down And Say It Out Loud
You'll be a more confident public speaker if you write down whatever it is you want to say, and then say it out loud a few times before you present it.
"Write yourself an email with the contents of your presentation so that you have the materials organized in your head," Pauline says. "Then talk out what you plan to say with a friend or colleague to further develop your ideas."
Pauline says when she runs public speaking coaching sessions with business executives, they always practice by talking through the presentation. Remember, practice usually makes perfect.
5. Practice Good Form
There are some basic rules to good public speaking that apply in most situations.
"Be organized and prepared, use a slow rate of speech, make lengthy eye contact to show confidence, start and end with a good handshake, and take long breaths to slow yourself down and calm your nerves," Pauline says.
And don't underestimate your outward expressions. "Overuse your smile to show both confidence and likeability," Pauline says.
And Remember ...
"You only get one chance to make a first impression and sell your product," Pauline says. "This requires comfort interacting with customers in all situations. If public speaking is a fear, you need to get out there and start doing public speaking in places where there is less pressure. Look for something not business-related, like community groups or giving toasts with friends, to develop skills."
Learning how to prepare polished presentations and speak confidently are skills that can help business owners share their ideas, sell their services and win more customers.
Carla Turchetti is a veteran print and broadcast journalist with a passion for money matters and the stories behind the world of small business and personal finance.
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